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An essay mill (also term paper mill) is a business that allows customers to commission an original piece of writing on a particular topic so that they may commit academic fraud.Customers provide the company with specific information about the essay, including: a page length, a general topic, and a time frame with which to work.
"Essay mill" companies hire university students, graduates, and professional writers to ghostwrite essays and term papers, and solicit business from university and college students by posting advertisements.
Until the early 1990s, most essay mill companies were 'bricks and mortar' businesses offering their services by mail-order or from offices located in university or college towns.
When asked if their services are considered cheating, one online company states that, "No, it’s not.
Dealing with us is pretty much like going to the library, where we would be acting as a helpful librarian helping you get enough material for a good grade.
Although essay mills and the students who use them are considered unethical by many educational professionals, they do not violate copyright law; the mill is the legal copyright holder of the papers, and the papers are licensed to paying students for limited use.
In informal settings where students exchange papers without any formal licensing or transfer of copyright, copyright violation may occur, but it is unlikely that the students will press charges, since they would incriminate themselves by doing so.
To obtain an essay, a customer usually submits a form that describes the assignment that he or she wants completed, how many pages it needs to be, and when it needs to be completed by.
On the opposite end of the transaction, the employee searches through requests until he or she finds something that looks interesting, that he or she can write quickly and that will satisfy the page requirement.
By the 2000s, most essay mill businesses have switched to an e-commerce business model, soliciting business and selling essays using an Internet website.
Companies often provide free sample essays on popular topics to attract Internet searches.